Asian shares stumble on growth worries as central banks tighten

By Andrew Galbraith

SHANGHAI, May 26 (Reuters) - Asian share markets slipped on Thursday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's early May meeting showed a majority backing half-percentage-point rate hikes in June and July, and as persistent concerns over global growth sapped confidence.

While the minutes also highlighted policymakers' faith in the strength of the U.S. economy, helping lift the mood on Wall Street overnight, sentiment in equity markets remains fragile after weeks of volatile trade as more global central banks continue on the path of tightening.

"I don't think the global economy is at the risk of a slowdown, I think we are slowing down. And for that reason, the potential for good investments right now is predominately on the short side," Barbara Ann Bernard, CIO of Wincrest Capital, a global long/short equity strategy hedge fund, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.

South Korea's central bank on Thursday raised interest rates for a second consecutive meeting as it grapples with consumer inflation at 13-year highs.

All participants at the Fed's May 3-4 meeting supported a half-percentage-point rate increase - the first of that size in more than 20 years - and "most participants" judged that further hikes of that magnitude would "likely be appropriate" at the Fed's policy meetings in June and July, according to minutes from the meeting

The minutes reflected agreement among policymakers on the strength of the U.S. economy, tightness of the labour market and high inflation, with global supply problems, the Ukraine war, and continued coronavirus lockdowns in China skewing inflationary risks "to the upside".

Lingering investor concern over those factors dragged MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS down 0.54% after trading higher early in the morning.

Chinese blue-chips .CSI300 fell 1.11% despite another drop in daily COVID-19 cases in the country, where lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the virus threaten to undermine recent economic support measures.

China will strive to achieve reasonable economic growth in the second quarter and stem rising unemployment, the official Xinhua news agency quoted Premier Li Keqiang as saying on Wednesday.

Australian shares .AXJO slipped 0.47% while Japan's Nikkei stock index .N225 reversed earlier gains to fall 0.13%.

Seoul's Kospi .KS11 was 0.25% higher after the central bank rate announcement came in line with expectations.

The falls in Asia contrast with a more upbeat mood on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 0.6%, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.95% and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 1.51%.

"I think the market is looking to stabilize here and looking a little bit forward to the point where the Fed can start to issue some different guidance and say the economy has slowed enough that they don't see the need to continue to raise rates," said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments in New Vernon, New Jersey.

After rising on Wednesday following the Fed minutes, the dollar was little changed in Asia trade. It was barely changed against the yen at 127.27 JPY= , while the euro EUR= gained 0.11% to 1.0692%.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of major peers =USD was just 0.03% lower at 102.02.

Moves in U.S. Treasury yields were also muted. The 10-year yield US10YT=RR edged up to 2.7577% from a close of 2.747%, and the policy-sensitive two-year yield US2YT=RR was flat at 2.506%.

Crude oil was steady after a cautious rally this week, with Brent crude LCOc1 flat at $114.03 per barrel and U.S. crude CLc1 up 0.13% at $110.47.

Spot gold XAU= was down 0.2% at $1,849.19 per ounce.

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Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Additional reporting by Chuck
Mikolajczak in New York and Divya Chowdhury in Davos,
Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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